The brainchild of Jon Mikl, the vision was to combine pounding rhythms with a live spectacle not to be outdone, all rolled into one anything but neat package of metal mayhem.
Born in 1955, Mikl grew up in Vancouver, and had two passions he was able to combine. As a bodybuilder, he was the first Canadian to win titles in both Mr. Canada and Mr USA competitions, then went on to win Mr Universe. During his career, he has achieved over 40 titles around the world, often competing with Arnold Schwarzenneger and Lou Ferrigno.
His love of music was the other method for letting loose penned up agression, and he dabbled in a number of garage bands for awhile. Still developing his image and style, his first foray into entertainment was more at home in Vegas than in front of a million watts of ear-shredding guitar notes.
Some of his earliest shows even included a dance band in the height of the disco era while performing feats of strength on stage, before he would become an icon of glam rock and one of the true originators of rock theatre. He even made ends meet by working as a nude waiter in Hawaii.
Back home, he formed The Ticks, which evolved into Iron Falcon, and then into Body Rock, but by ’73 he pulled the plug on the band and was moving to Toronto. Looking for a replacement band, he saw Frank Soda and his band Jumping Bad playing one night, and asked if they’d be interested in backing him up on a few shows in Northern BC. Shortly thereafter, Soda, along with John Lechesseur on drums and new bassist Colin Towers, took the train out east. Because none of Soda’s band was particularly tall, Thor & The Imps was born.
In the earliest days of hair metal, they quickly began tearing up the bars with a show that was ever expanding and evolving, eventually including prop swords and shields, war hammers,elaborate costumes, and feats of strength that included bending a steel bar with his teeth, and having cinder blocks broken on his chest with a sledge hammer.
Before long the band was a mainstay on the circuit around Toronto and the area, building an underground following rivalled by few. Their brand of experimentation with glam rock, early metal and punk got dubbed by Mikl as ‘muscle rock.’ One of the band’s most requested songs live was their cover of Sweet’s “Action,” which was supposed to be played when they were asked to appear on The Merv Griffin Show in ’76, where he wowed the crowd by blowing up a hot water bottle. But as fate would have it, Mikl was told the house band would be performing instead of The Imps.
The exposure led Mikl to doing several shows in Vegas where he dressed like a gladiator and sang like Barry Manilow, which gave The Imps reason to break off and do their own thing. Mikl recruited guitarist and chief songwriting partner David Bendith, and a deal with MCA Records was inked in ’77, with KEEP THE DOGS AWAY following soon after. Produced by Ian Guenther and Willi Morrison, George Semkiw (Queen City Kids, among others) served as the engineer, the album was rowdie and brash, mixing early metal and straight punk that served as a backdrop to his growing outlandish stage show, including the title track (which was released as a single), “Sleeping Giant,” “Military Matters,” and “Superhero.”
MCA dropped Thor from the roster in ’79, and Mikl began shopping around for different indie labels. Three EPs followed – the Canada-only GLADIATOR late that year, and STRIKING VIKING the following spring, each featuring more slick guitar licks set to fantasy based lyrics. In ’83, the backing band now consisted of guitarist Steve Price, bassist Keith Zazzi, drummer Mike Favata (who’d replaced Rick Hayton after he left to join Sentinel), and backup singer Pantera. They went to the studio with producer Tom Doherty, recording enough material for a full record, but UNCHAINED was released. Each of these EPs were released on different labels, depending on what country they were issued, and what time of year.
Two of the tracks from the UNCHAINED, “When Gods Collide” and “Rock The City” made the cut for ONLY THE STRONG a year later. Again, different indie labels around the world picked up on what many critics considered one of the best metal anthems of the year. With songs like the single “Let The Blood Run Red,” “Start Raising Hell,” “Knock ‘Em Down,” and “Thunder on the Tundra,” the band’s mystique had grown enough that a European tour ensued, keeping them on the road for over the next year.
Capturing the live spectacle of their concerts, BBC ran his show from Camden Palace on television, and the aptly titled LIVE IN LONDON was released on VHS in ’84. But due to the profanic lyrics, it had a slightly altered version of “Knock ‘Em Down.” This wasn’t the case however when LIVE IN DETROIT followed in early ’85.
After some much needed time off, he returned with a pair of albums in ’86, which also marked the beginning of what would become an illustrious b-movie career for him, when he co-starred in “Zombie Nightmare” with Adam West (Batman), for which he also performed the soundtrack. Under the monikor of his new project called Tritonz, he also released EDGE OF HELL that year, which was the soundtrack to the film of the same name in which he starred.
RECRUITS WILD IN THE STREETS, billed as a solo album under Jon Mikl Thor, followed. Again, it was based on the movie of the same name, in which he played the evil Thunderhead in the rollicking and sexy Canadian cop comedy. Much in the same vein as his previous records, RECRUITS featured “Heartbreak Choir,” “Warhammer,” “Lady Of The Night,” and “Energy,” as well as a re-recording of “Ragnarock” from the STRIKING VIKING EP.
He continued to double dip in his music and his acting career throughout the rest of the decade, most noteable of which was his starring role in “Rock n Roll Nightmare” – the classic campy horror flick in which he starred and did the entire soundtrack. The movie itself was made in seven days with a paltry $53,000 budget.
Relatively speaking, the ’90s were rather quiet, as he concentrated more on his acting career, including his roles in “Graveyard, “Ride The Chariots,” and “The Intercessor,” a trio of more b-movie horror/comedy shticks. The ‘best of’ AN-THOR-LOGY hit the stands in ’97, nicely recapping his career. Due to RCA owning the rights to KEEP THE DOGS AWAY, however, nothing from that lp appeared on the disc. A year later, THUNDERSTRUCK – TALES OF THE EQUINOX was released, featuring the lead off “War Hammer,” “The Court Of The Crimson King,” another appearance of “Ragnarock,” and “Slap Your Face” – part two of “Knock ‘Em Down” from the ONLY THE STRONG album.
After releasing DOGZ II in 2001 as a solo project (Jon Thor), he formed a new side project, Thor & The Ass Boys, who released their only album ODIN SPEAKS that same year. The project didn’t last long however, as he found himself working on movie soundtracks for the next few years shortly thereafter, including “Fubar” and “Murder At The Presidio,” in which he also had a starring role.
The same year, he partnered with famed fantasy artist Mick Hoffman, argued as one of the best comic book artists today for the concept album THOR – THE ROCK WARRIOR. The new project blended classic strained heavy metal with a comic book.
In ’03 he partnered with DOA, releasing a record on Sudden Death Records called ARE U READY?. Each group contributed half of the 12 songs. Thor’s half included remixes of “Call Of The Triumphant,” “Gladiator Stomp,” “Search And Destroy,” “The Challenge,” “Stormbringer,” and “Rock The City.”
Another of his concept albums came to light a year later, when BEASTWOMEN FROM THE CENTRE OF ETERNITY was released. With tracks like “Palace Of Gold,” “Cry Of The Valkyrie,” and “Symphony Of Steel,” it served as the backdrop for a metal opera, allowing Mikl to expand his live props repetoire, and to work again with Hoffman in the production of a second comic book. Still in 2002, he was voted as one of the 100 greatest frontmen of all time in the UK’s Classic Rock Magazine.
2003 saw the release of MUTANT, which contained “Crusader,” “Sweet Love,” the title track, and a remake of “Rock The City” from the UNCHAINED EP. He signed with Smog Veil Records in ’05, releasing THOR AGAINST THE WORLD later that year. Juggling acting and music by this time was common place, and DEVASTATION OF MUSCULATION, featuring the title track, “Return Of Odin’s Son,” and “Queen Of The Damned” was released. The same year, he released the previously unheard material from Thor & The Imps called THE EARLY YEARS – THE 1970s, as well as a reissue of LIVE IN DETROIT, featuring three bonus tracks that didn’t make the cut for the original album two decades earlier.
In ’07, he released another concept album, INTO THE NOISE, which featured the lead-off “Thor’s Revenge,” “Berserker,” the title track, and “NoGuts No Glory.” Still dabbling in acting, he starred in the Lifetime Network TV movie “A Family Lost” that same year.
2009 was a busy year, as he formed his own label, Vulcan Sky Records. The first order of business was to dust off the album that launched his career into superstardom, KEEP THE DOGS AWAY, remastering and re-releasing it. But it almost never happened, as the original master tapes were water damaged while in a basement of one of Thor’s houses that had flooded.
Always looking for an alternate project to keep himself busy, he produced the indie band Green ELOS when they cut their debut album, BACK IN THE UK. That year he also secured the rights to the Vancouver Millionaires (1915 Stanley Cup winners), and founded VM Sports, the exclusive merchandise dealers. This lent nicely to the 2009 album SIGN OF THE V, which featured “Vancouver Millionaires,” and “V Is For Victory.” STEAM CLOCK, featuring “Men Of Might,” “Feel The Fear,” the title track and “Ride Hard Live Free” were all typical Thor material – heavy, but with more studio time spent on them. Noteable on the record was the cover of Trooper‘s “Mr Big,” for which Thor contributed in 2000 for the Trooper tribute album, SHOT SPOTS.
In 2010, ONLY THE STRONG was remastered and re-released with the bonus track, “Iron King,” cut from the original album. Reprising his role as Jon Triton, he starred in the sequel to “Rock n Roll Nightmare” later that year – “Rock n Roll Nightmare – Son Of Thor.”